MONEY consumer psychology

5 Reasons Why You Give Such Awful Presents

cupcake in a ring box
Tooga—Getty Images

If it's the thought that counts when it comes to giving terrific presents, then what exactly are horrible gift-givers thinking?

We’ve all suffered through that awkward silence at least once, the one that comes right after someone opens the holiday gift that you selected—and that’s somehow not quite right. In fact, it’s a horrible gift. It’s inappropriate, thoughtless, silly, or otherwise ill-considered.

Depending on the manners of the recipient, the reaction to the presentation of such a gift might be a forced squeal of delight, an overly broad, stiff smile, or a quick, flat “thank you” tinged with a touch of confusion. Or something far worse. But there’s no getting around the fact that, as far as presents go, this one has been deemed pretty awful.

How could this have happened, you wonder? You’re usually such a thoughtful gift-giver. It’s not that you don’t like the recipient, nor that you were trying to make a statement or cheap out—among the disturbing psychological motivations for presents that wind up on the Worst Gifts Ever Awards list that I’ve chronicled in previous years. Still, even the most seasoned, well-intentioned shoppers make mistakes. After talking with scores of recipients about why some gifts are awful, a handful of explanations surfaced repeatedly.

So that you can avoid developing a reputation as a bad gift-giver, here are the top five reasons why regrettable presents are purchased.

1. The “This Will Make a Nice Gift” Gift

Leslie purchased three elegant carving sets (the kind you use to carve a roast or turkey) at an online auction because she thought they “would make nice gifts” for someone. “They were like 80% off, and I guess I wasn’t thinking about who exactly they would make nice gifts for because everyone I gave them to seemed confused,” she recalled. “In retrospect they were right. I wasn’t thinking about the person I’d be giving them to, just that they were beautiful—and that I could give an expensive sort of gift for not much money.”

If you find yourself considering a purchase but you don’t have a recipient in mind, think about Leslie. Then think again and reconsider making the purchase. The best gifts are purchased with a specific recipient in mind. Very rarely does it work out that someone buys a gift and later finds the perfect person to give it to.

2. The “How Old is He Again?” Gift

Many people see relatives only during the holidays, or even less frequently than that. It’s easy to think of people as who they were the last time we saw them, rather than realize who they are right now. Which is basically Maryanne’s explanation for why she gave her 14-year-old step-niece sparkly barrettes and a butterfly wand for Christmas last year. “I was shocked when I saw her, she was so grown-up all of a sudden!” Maryanne said. “Needless to say, she hated the little girl gifts.”

This kind of mistake can be made not just because of age-related snafus, but also by givers failing to notice changes in life stages, looks, interests, and hobbies. A man named Joe told me that he finds it odd—and a bit annoying—that he still gets a tie every year from one of his sons even though he’s been retired for years: “I’ve got a closet full of ties and it no place to wear them.”

3. The “All Hat, No Cattle” Gift (and Vice Versa)

Wrapping makes a statement. For some reason, Janine decided to use an old Tiffany box to hold an ornament she’d purchased for her sister. “You should have seen her face, actually both of them,” Janine remembered. “The one she had when she saw the Tiffany box—all excited. And then the one she had when she opened the box—not good.”

I think the sister would have liked the ornament a lot more if the blue box presentation didn’t make her think it was going to be something else. On the other hand, Ray slipped a diamond ring in the bowl of a mixer, wrapped the whole thing up and gave it to his wife for Christmas. “She was so mad about that mixer, she’d told me not to get her any more cooking equipment, and then she was embarrassed about getting mad when she saw the ring. I don’t know what I was thinking,” Ray said. “It really wasn’t the joyful opening I’d hoped it would be.”

The solution isn’t to skip the wrapping and creativity. It’s to be aware of managing expectations to maximize the pleasure of the gift. And remember surprises aren’t necessarily good.

4. The “Procrastinator’s Special” Gift

Procrastinators usually do so for one of two reasons: They’re mulling among two or more options and it’s taking a while; or they are really unclear on what to do, where to go and how to pick so they drag their feet, knowing that if they make a mistake they can blame it on time constraints. Procrastinators can make inspired gift choices — but the odds are against them.

Pamela is married to a procrastinator. “My husband got me really fabulous shoes, but in the wrong size with a note saying that I should exchange them for the right size,” she said. “When I tried to exchange them were sold out, which was also the case when he bought them — probably on Christmas Eve.”

5. The “The Impulsively Purchased Extravagance” Gift

When do we purchase impulsively? When we’re wowed. In today’s marketplace, dominated as it is with dramatic Black Friday discounts and big markdowns throughout the holidays, that “wow” is more likely to come after we see a special price rather than a special product. Shoppers can easily get blindsided by a tempting price, not to mention the idea that they’ll be able to give a seemingly extravagant gift that’s still within their budget.

That’s the gist of how Megan ended up giving her mother a dry-clean-only cashmere robe for Christmas last year. “It was elegant, and even though it was almost twice as expensive as the plush robe she’d asked for, I was thrilled to give it to her. Until I saw her face,” said Megan. “She had this ‘Did I raise a crazy daughter?’ look on her face, and in that instant I realized what a mistake I’d made. Unfortunately, I got it at an outlet mall. I couldn’t return it so it lives on to remind me to stick with the list.”

Which is good advice for everyone.

Kit Yarrow, Ph.D., is a consumer psychologist who is obsessed with all things related to how, when and why we shop and buy. She conducts research through her professorship at Golden Gate University and shares her findings in speeches, consulting work, and her books, Decoding the New Consumer Mind and Gen BuY.

MONEY deals

The Hottest Holiday Deals Are for Stuff You’d Never Give as Gifts

Staples copy paper
Mark Lennihan—AP

Right now, arguably the best holiday shopping deals are for household staples: printer paper, tissues, disinfectant wipes, and toilet paper.

Retailers engage in all sorts of crafty tactics to manipulate customers into buying things they otherwise wouldn’t, but there would have to be one seriously masterful sales job to make consumers think that toilet paper is the perfect item to wrap and place under the Christmas tree.

Instead, retailers are offering dramatic discounts right now on items that shoppers need for their own households. Think: printer paper for 1¢ and disinfectant wipes for 75% off.

While it might seem to make more sense during the holiday season to have great deals on things that people would actually give as holiday gifts, the strategy is perfectly logical in one fairly obvious way: It draws loads of shoppers out to stores (or pushes them into making purchases online), with the idea that once these customers are in the buying mood, they’re likely to be tempted into buying gifts and other items that aren’t discounted quite as dramatically.

What’s more, this strategy seems timed well for the period right after Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s normally somewhat of a lull for consumers, who are likely exhausted after browsing the barrage of deals during the big shopping weekend, and who don’t yet feel the pressure to make last-minute holiday gift purchases. In this way, can’t-pass-up-deals on things that everyone needs serve as a sensible prod to woo shoppers into buying more stuff.

Hence this week’s roster of coupons from Staples, which can be printed out and presented in-store only for some amazing deals through Friday, including:

for a ream of multipurpose paper (normally $7.99)

$2.99 for three-pack of Kleenex facial tissues (compare to $7.99)

$8.99 for 12 rolls of Bounty Basic paper towels (normally $16.19)

$8.99 for 24 rolls of Charmin Basic bath tissue (normally $11.49)

20% off cups, plates, and cutlery

50% off select Philips lightbulbs

Staples’ big competitor in the office-supply space, Office Depot (and its sibling Office Max), is also discounting some necessities, including deals for buy one, get one 50% off its store brand paper and 75% off Lysol and Clorox disinfectant wipes.

Meanwhile, Walmart and Amazon appear to be engaged in a price war for a necessity that isn’t really much of a gift on its own, but that’s necessary for many gifts: batteries. The former has an online special right now for a 40-pack of Duracell batteries (30 AA and 10 AAA) for $16.99 (list price: $40), while the latter is listing a 40-pack of Duracell AAs for around $20 (list price: $60).

MONEY online shopping

How to Stop Facebook from Ruining Your Holiday Gift Surprises

Wrapped bicycle
Michael Blann—Getty Images

Parents who shop online—so all parents, basically—need to know how easy it is for kids to find out what they're getting for the holidays.

Every week, it seems, there’s a new scandal about email passwords being stolen or retail customers’ data being hacked by stealthy cyber criminals. Yet such incidents represent only a teeny-tiny slice of how our online behavior is spied upon and used. In the vast majority of cases, our data is tracked and used in entirely legal ways by search engines, social media, retailers, and advertisers. Legal or not, the repercussions of such tracking—and the ads that inevitably follow—can feel like an ongoing privacy violation.

What’s more, targeted ads come with the potential of revealing secrets about what people have been searching, browsing, and buying online. While the results are generally not nearly as devastating as identity theft, they can create tense situations. In probably the most notorious example, a father found out his high school daughter was pregnant only after Target had sent her coupons for cribs and other baby products—offers that were based on her shopping history.

This time of year, the relentless stream of targeted (also known as “interest-based” or “retargeted”) ads that pop up in banners or on the side of web pages also come with the potential of ruining a holiday gift surprise. Say a mom does some browsing online for presents for her son. Soon thereafter, the items she viewed start showing up in ads on the device that was used, along with ads “inspired” by her browsing history.” If and when the would-be recipient hops on the same device, he’ll see all of those ads. Without much sleuthing, he’ll be clued in about what mom was shopping for, and he’ll have a good idea to expect the new Nike high-tops, game console, or whatever come December 25. So much for the big reveal.

It’s unclear how often this scenario plays out, but it’s a possibility some parents worry about. “I guess you have to pick btw letting your kids use the computer and shopping online, since custom ads follow you and spoil gift surprises,” one mom tweeted recently. Last year the founder of Marketing Land wrote at length about his wife’s frustrated attempts to stop banner ads from Macy’s, ThinkGeek, and other retailers she shopped from popping up on the computer she often shared with her kids.

It’s not just parents who worry about blown surprises. One Reddit user recently posted, coyly and excitedly, that her longtime boyfriend had been getting engagement ring ads in his Facebook feed. Surely, she felt, this was an indication that he was getting ready to pop the question. One commenter followed up with a story about a friend whose boyfriend also was flooded with engagement ring ads before he proposed. Then, as soon as she changed her status to “engaged,” she was slammed with weight loss ads offering to provide assistance “fitting into your dress.” Naturally, the baby-related ads followed after the wedding took place.

“You’re stalked with ads related to what you’ve been shopping for all the time,” says Bruce Schneier, an internationally renowned computer security expert and a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Security. Nonetheless, Schneier thinks it’s probably “a rare occurrence” for people to correctly deduce what they’ll be getting as holiday gifts based on the ads they see on a shared computer. “When a kid sees an ad for an Xbox, he’s probably just going to think I want an Xbox, not Mom got me an Xbox.”

For that matter, the presence of these ads is no indication of whether anything was actually purchased. As an Al Jazeera column about “curated” and “retargeted” ads noted, consumers can be “stalked by socks” and other items they browsed while shopping online regardless of whether or not they purchased the goods, or whether they searched for such goods randomly, as a goof, or out of genuine interest. “Personalized ads can be right, but they’re often wrong” in terms of being truly appealing to the right set of eyes, Schneier says.

Most e-retailers offer consumers the right to opt out of being subjected to tracking and retargeted ads, but Schneier thinks doing so is a waste of time. Not only are the processes for opting out convoluted and filled with loopholes, there are so many digitized eyeballs monitoring your online activity that successfully negating them one at a time is virtually impossible.

It’s much better and more effective, he says, to install a tool such as Adblock Plus (which blocks some or all ads according to filters checked by the user), Privacy Badger (which automatically blocks trackers or ads that it deems to violate “the principle of user consent”), or some combination of several blockers. Others recommend shopping online in private browsing mode; when using Google Chrome Incognito, for instance, the browser doesn’t save a record of what sites have been visited, and therefore (theoretically) there should later be no retargeted ads that surface as a result.

If you’re dealing with an especially stubborn child or spouse who has a history of noticing what online ads foretell in terms of holiday gifts, you might want to try a different strategy: Spend some time here and there clicking on all sorts of items haphazardly, or purposely browse for things you know he’d absolutely hate to receive on Christmas. The resulting collection of retargeted ads is likely to be so random, nonsensical, and disappointing that it’ll throw him off the trail and he’ll have no clue what you actually bought.

As a bonus, you’ll simultaneously be messing with the retailers, browsers, and other bots that generate these annoying ads in the first place.

What Should I Do If I’ve Been the Victim of a Data Breach?

MONEY Phones

Sprint cuts rates in half to win AT&T, Verizon customers

The offer is the latest attempt by the third-largest carrier to compete with its larger rivals.

Sprint’s latest plan to compete with its two larger rivals? Woo AT&T and Verizon customers by offering to cut their phone bills in half if they switch to Sprint.

The Overland Park, Kansas company announced that deal on Tuesday, promising “unlimited talk and text” and a matched data allowance at half the rate of what current Verizon and AT&T customers are currently paying for their monthly plans. Billing it as “The Cut Your Bill in Half Event,” Sprint also promised to pay up to $350 toward customers’ early termination fees or installment bill balances in an offer that will officially launch on Friday.

Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure called it “the best value in wireless” in the company’s announcement. “It’s as simple as this: Bring Sprint your Verizon or AT&T bill along with your phone and we’ll cut your rate plan in half. That’s a 50 percent savings on your rate plan every month. And this great deal is not just a promotion. This will be the customer’s ongoing price,” Claure said in a statement.

The limited-time offer is a sign that Sprint, the nation’s third-largest mobile carrier, now sees price competition as the best way to battle AT&T and Verizon. Earlier this year, Sprint and its parent company — Japan’s SoftBank — backed off a $32 billion planto purchase smaller carrier T-Mobile US after the two sides failed to reach a deal that could have created a larger mobile company better suited to take on AT&T and Verizon.

Interestingly, Sprint’s new rate offer does not extend to T-Mobile customers.


Cyber Monday Sales Pass $2 Billion in Biggest E-Commerce Day Ever

The record-breaking figures come as a welcome tonic for retailers after news that sales over the Thanksgiving weekend were a bust

So much for the idea that Cyber Monday is waning as a shopping event.

E-commerce sales on the Monday after Thanksgiving hit $2.04 billion, up 17% compared to a year ago, according to analytics firm comScore, making it the biggest online shopping day ever, and the first to surpass $2 billion in sales. For the full five-day period, sales rose 24%, and e-commerce sales so far are running ahead of forecasts.

“Any notion that Cyber Monday is declining in importance is really unfounded, as it continues to post new historical highs and reflects the ongoing strength of online this holiday season,” said comScore Chairman Emeritus Gian Fulgoni.

The numbers come as a welcome tonic for retailers after the National Retail Federation estimated that sales, both online and in stores, over the Thanksgiving/Black Friday weekend were a bust.

Walmart Stores, for one, said it had its biggest e-commerce day ever on Monday, though it didn’t quantify that success. Wamart and other retailers, including Target and J.C. Penney, have invested heavily in their e-commerce firepower to fight back against online shopping leader this holiday season.

This article originally appeared on

MONEY consumer psychology

10 Subliminal Retail Tricks You’re Probably Falling For

soda can with sprinkles and a cherry on top
William Castellana—Gallery Stock

There's a reason that salesperson is being rude. Increasingly sophisticated consumer research shows that if she disses you, you'll spend more.

Today’s marketing strategies aren’t dreamed up in smoky rooms full of Mad Men. The tools companies employ to get you to buy their stuff have grown ever more sophisticated, with marketers even using neural measurements to design product packaging and appeal to your deepest desires (to be covered in Cheetos dust, apparently).

Consumer experience these days is not simply designed; it’s engineered. Research determines the ads you see, the scents and sounds you encounter in stores, even the way a salesperson might casually touch your arm. It’s not all high-tech brain science, but here are some of the tricks companies use to entice you to spend more.

1. They make you nostalgic. Don Draper was on to something with his sentimental pitch for a Kodak campaign. But the abundance of families, puppies, and childhood ephemera in the ads you see every day is more than a simple ploy to tug on your heartstrings. Recent research shows nostalgia makes people value money less and feel willing to pay more for purchases.

2. They sic rude salespeople on you. At high-end stores like Gucci, customers are actually more inclined to buy expensive products after a salesperson has acted snottily to them, a new study found. This effect—which doesn’t work with mass-market brands, only luxury—seems to have something to do with the desire to be part of an in crowd. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, you’re more likely to want to belong to a club that doesn’t want you as a member.

3. They use smaller packaging to get you to buy bigger. You’d think that it would be easier to buy and drink less soda and beer if you stick to the cute new mini-cans that seem to be all the rage these days. But research shows buying multi-packs of those small sizes can actually lead people to consume more overall.

4. They get you lost and confused. It’s not an accident that grocery stores are often laid out unintuitively. Losing focus makes people spend more on impulse purchases, says expert Martin Lindstrom, who has conducted studies on marketing strategies. Getting interrupted during shopping also makes you less price-sensitive, according to research co-authored by marketing professor Wendy Liu at UC San Diego. That’s because when you return to look at products after a distraction, you have a false sense of having already vetted them, she says.

5. They mimic your gestures—and get women to touch you. A woman’s touch—but not a man’s—makes people of either sex looser with their money, so when that saleswoman touches your shoulder, you may unwittingly end up spending more. Additionally, research shows that if a salesperson of either sex imitates your gesticulations, you are more likely to buy what he or she is selling.

6. They get you to handle the merchandise. Consumers are willing to pay at least 40% more for mugs and DVDs—and 60% more for snacks—that are physically present than for the same products displayed in photographs or described in text, according to a Caltech study. And other research shows your willingness to pay more increases as you spend more time looking at and holding objects.

7. They create the illusion of bulk bargains. Whether you’re using a jumbo shopping cart or a small basket, you’re going to be tempted to load it up, so it pays to make sure those “deals” are actually worthwhile. Researcher Lindstrom found that adding the sentence “maximum 8 cans per customer” to the price tag of soup cans caused sales to jump, even if no true discount was offered, because it gave the illusion of one. It’s worth asking at checkout: Does that “10 for $10″ actually just mean one for $1?

8. They give you free treats. Consuming even one free chocolate increased shoppers’ desire for nonfood luxuries—including expensive watches, dressy designer shirts, and Mac laptops—right after eating it, according to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

9. They drop the dollar sign. If you think the plain old “28” rather than “$28″ on the menu of your favorite fancy restaurant is simply designed to look chic and minimalist, think again. A Cornell study found that a format that leaves off dollar signs and even the word dollar gets people to spend 8% more at restaurants.

10. They carefully engineer store ambiance. Ambient sounds and smells can make you less careful with your cash. In an appliance store, researcher Lindstrom pumped in the smell of an apple pie, and the sales of ovens and fridges went up 23%. He also found that alternating German and French music in a wine shop influenced which bottles customers purchased. Even nonmusic background sounds can make you overspend: A researcher found that the distraction of noise made people more likely to buy fancier sneakers.


MONEY Shopping

What to Buy (and Avoid Buying) in December

snowflake cookie cutter in flour
Mike Bentley—Getty Images

Snag deep discounts this month on these 10 items, while avoiding holiday markup traps on other goods.

I write this as another day of truly vulgar behavior is behind us. Yes, deals are great. I love them. But I did not go anywhere near the craziness today, and with so many tools now available to us, we don’t need to venture into the insane crowds to get bargains. Remember, Black Friday deals are not always what they appear to be, and you can often find better deals on Cyber Monday (without having to set foot in a store). So, with that said, let’s look forward to the last shopping month of 2014.

First, What to Buy…

So, it’s that time; the Christmas and holiday shopping lists are being made, and it’s time to start digging out the best deals to keep everyone happy and your wallet in check. Here are the deals you should pounce on this month.

Gift Cards

If you’re smart, you can grab yourself some free money by buying select gift cards that come with incentives. You can get $25 to $50 in free gift cards by spending $150 to $200 on them. If you were planning to shop at those stores anyway, you’ve just bagged free money. Even places like Chipotle will give you a free burrito for buying a certain amount in gift cards. If you eat their food often, you’re golden.

Thanksgiving Merchandise

When Thanksgiving ends, the stores are desperate to dump their stock to fill the shelves with Christmas goodies. Make a space in your basement or attic for the killer deals you’ll find on decorations, cards, cookware and much more. There are also going to be huge discounts on Thanksgiving themed food and drink. It’s still fresh; it’s just got a dated theme. Who cares?!

Thrift Store Goodies

If you aren’t shopping in thrift stores, you’re missing out on some unbelievable bargains. Most people are too busy with the upcoming holidays to bother listing unwanted items on eBay or Craigslist, so they drop them off at the local ARC or Goodwill. Not only will you find some items in like new condition, you’ll also get incredible bargains on items you can resell on eBay for a massive profit. One great find could pay for your whole shopping list, if you know what you’re looking for.

Christmas Decorations and Goods

Wait a second. Don’t go rushing out for these now. You need to wait until after December 25th. But after that, go hog wild! The stores do not want all that merchandise clogging up their shelves. Expect to see 50% to 90% savings on everything from trees and lights to yard decorations, cards, and gift-wrap. Remember, Christmas will be here again next year, so buy now to save later.


It’s odd, putting champagne on the discount list when this is the peak month to buy it. But, liquor stores are smart. They know that by making champagne a loss leader, they’ll make it back on the other booze you’ll buy. However, you don’t have to buy anything else — just grab the cheap champagne and celebrate in style.


As the year comes to a close, and the bad weather comes rushing in, car dealerships are clearing out inventory. They’ll drop their prices to do it, and offer huge incentives. If you don’t mind braving the weather on those cold, open lots, you could drive into 2014 with a great bargain. However, it’s always better to buy used, even if it’s just a year old. New cars depreciate quickly.


Just like car dealerships, sellers of homes have it tough at this time of year. Most just take their homes off the market to ride out the winter months. So if houses are on the market, the sellers are very motivated. Now is the time to do some home hunting, and dare to undercut asking prices by a chunk.

Kitchen Supplies

Manufacturers know this is the season for cooking impulse buys, and they’ll do what they can to lure you in. A nicely timed discount will tip people from “maybe next month” to “I’ll take it.” So with all the different holidays and events coming, you can stock up on new kitchen gadgets and save more than a few bucks. Also, consider wedding gifts, which may be coming up in the spring.

Toys Go Cheap

Deals on lots of toys pop up in December every year, even though they’re in high demand. There is insane competition between all the different toys, and so manufacturers are cutting prices to grab your attention. It’s good news for you and the kids, but there is a catch — you’ll have to wait until Mid-December.

Tool Prices Are Cut

It’s not a great time to be doing DIY, but it’s a great time to stock up on the essentials everyone needs to get the jobs done. You’ll see prices cut on all sorts of tools and equipment, from power drills (go for Lithium batteries) and bench saws to screwdrivers, wrench sets, and sanders.

And, What to Avoid…

With the exception of Cyber Monday, there are some deals that are too good to be true in December. With 2015 quickly approaching, you may see some good offers on older equipment, gadgets, and appliances. Make sure you’re okay with dated products before you dive in. Here are other things to avoid this month.

Gym Memberships

I said it last year, and I’ll say it again. Gym memberships and subscriptions hit a peak in the New Year, and they are starting to see those increase in December. A lot of people like to have the membership in place, so that they can get straight down to the hard work in the first week of January. It’s going to be this way for a while, so just find another way to stay fit. Craigslist will have some killer deals thanks to new equipment for Christmas.


Aside from Cyber Monday, the best deals for your electronic gadgets have come and gone. What’s more, any deals you may find will be on the 2014 stock that retailers are trying to clear out before the 2015 goodies arrive in the New Year. Do yourself a favor, and wait it out.


People love giving jewelry at this time of year. And when people love doing something, retailers love charging them top dollar for it. So unless you really have to drop some of your cash on rings, necklaces, and other sparkling items, wait until next year for that pricey item.


Unless you absolutely have to put a brand new calendar up on the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, you should steer clear of calendars. They are expensive right now. Full price, everywhere you look. But come a few weeks into 2015, the prices will start to fall like the rain in Seattle. You can expect to save at least 50%, and when February comes around, stores everywhere will be almost giving them away. Really, with the smartphones and tablets, does anyone really need them as reminders anymore?

Winter Gear and Clothing

It’s cold out there. Snow shovels, big coats, hats, gloves, boots, and all the other winter gear is marked at full price for the next few months. If you really need them now, consider Craigslist or thrift stores to save some cash.

This article is from Paul Michael of Wise Bread, an award-winning personal finance and credit card comparison website. Read more articles from Wise Bread:

Ultimate Gift Guide: Thoughtful Ideas for Every List and Every Budget
15 Cheap, Clever, and Attractive Ways to Save on Gift Wrapping Paper
40 Stocking Stuffer Ideas for $5 or Less

TIME Retail

Walmart Breaks Single-Day Sales Record on Cyber Monday

Christmas shopping season starts with Black Friday
Bilgin Sasmaz—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images People shop on Black Friday, Nov. 27, 2014 in New York.

The retailer is calling this week “Cyber Week,” touting a handful of tech gadget promotions that will run for several days

Walmart said this year’s Cyber Monday saw the most online orders in a single day in the retailer behemoth’s history, with a bulk of traffic in the early days of the holiday season derived from mobile devices.

The retailer said customers viewed more than 1.5 billion pages on between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday — an industry term for the Monday that comes after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Mobile accounted for about 70% of the traffic over that five-day period, Walmart said.

Though the numbers look rosy, Walmart didn’t provide any sales specific data. And while shoppers appeared to give retailers a lift on Monday with online sales rising 8.1% over last year’s numbers according to preliminary data from IBM’s Digital Analytics Benchmark, the increase wasn’t as strong as expected.

Reuters noted that observers had projected an increase between 13% to 15%. The growth also trails what was reported last year, when observers estimated that Cyber Monday sale rose as high as 21%.

Walmart is trying to milk the Cyber Monday lingo for as long as possible. The retailer is calling this week “Cyber Week,” touting a handful of tech gadget promotions that will run for several days. That highlights what observers have noted this year: with deals spread across a longer stretch of time, the significance of sales on any one single day could be diminishing.

This article originally appeared on

MONEY deals

Why Black Friday Sales Were a Bust—and How to Get the Best Deals Now

Shoppers pass by stores windows advertising Black Friday deals after the stores opened their doors at midnight.
Derek Davis—Press Herald via Getty Images Shoppers pass by stores windows advertising Black Friday deals after the stores opened their doors at midnight.

When "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday" sales are available before, during, and after these traditional events occur, what's the point of shopping on the actual days?

Black Friday weekend was not the sales blockbuster retailers had hoped. In fact, the number of shoppers hitting the stores during the four-day period commencing on Thanksgiving and stretching through Sunday was down by more than 5% compared with last year, and overall spending was down 11%, according to National Retail Federation (NRF) data. The NRF blamed “early holiday promotions” as a key reason for the weekend’s sales slump. In other words, shoppers were buying less over the weekend because they had been buying more in the days and weeks before Thanksgiving—understandable considering that Black Friday-type sales popped up well before Black Friday.

Nonetheless, the numbers were received as a shock in certain circles because the hype machine had built up big expectations leading into Thanksgiving. According to a consumer poll conducted by Accenture before the holiday weekend, consumer excitement for Black Friday was at its highest level in eight years. Two-thirds of Americans reportedly said they were likely to shop (in stores or online) on Black Friday, up from 55% the year before and just 44% in 2007. Polls from the NRF indicated that some 140 million consumers would shop sometime between Thursday and Sunday of last weekend, and the NRF also forecast that retail sales for the holiday season as a whole would be up more than 4% this year.

There are many theories explaining why the forecasts were wrong and sales during the big shopping weekend failed to impress. They include the following:

There’s no sense of urgency. One criticism about stores being open on Thanksgiving is that doing so does not necessarily boost sales overall. Instead, Thanksgiving Day sales simply displace transactions that would have taken place on Black Friday or some other day during the holidays. By pushing Black Friday-type promotions in early November (and at the start of Thanksgiving week and on Thanksgiving itself) and then by following up that big shopping weekend with widespread Cyber Monday deals and weeks of markdowns thereafter, retailers give shoppers the impression that broad discounts are the rule rather than the exception pretty much through all of November and December. Consequently, because deals are a dime a dozen, shoppers have less of a sense of urgency about making purchases on Black Friday or any other particular day.

The Washington Post quoted NRF chief executive Matthew Shay making just this point in a recent conference call with reporters. “Shoppers have changed the way in which they view exclusive deals,” Shay said. “They have this expectation that they’re going to be here all the time.”

There’s no mystery as to how consumers developed this expectation: It’s come as a result of great deals being made available all the time during the last two months of the year. The widespread feeling among shoppers is: Don’t worry about missing out on some supposedly short-lived deal, because when it expires surely another will follow quickly on its heels.

The deals simply weren’t that great. With the exception of some extraordinarily cheap doorbuster promotions, the sale prices offered by stores over the past weekend weren’t amazing enough to convince consumers that they absolutely must trek or to the mall or pull the trigger on online purchases. Surely, the ubiquity of nonstop deals (see above) has something to do with lackluster excitement on behalf of shoppers. But the increased savvy of shoppers—who are armed with smartphones, who now do price comparisons instinctively, and who are primed to always expect bigger and better deals—factors in as well.

Fewer shoppers assume that stores have their best price on Black Friday nowadays. According to one poll, 70% of Americans said that Black Friday is meaningless because there will be more sales throughout the holidays.” There is also some hard evidence that there’s often nothing special when it comes to prices during Black Friday weekend; one study estimated that the average discount on Black Friday was less than 5%.

Whereas in the past shoppers may have made purchases simply because it was Black Friday or Cyber Monday, today’s consumers are more inclined to hold off until they see deals that seem so genuinely awesome they cannot be skipped. Sometimes it’s glaringly obvious that this is not the case with a retailer’s sale. Take the Cyber Monday promotion at Puma’s website. It offered 20% off purchases of $75 or more, 30% off orders of $100 and up, and 40% off orders of $150+. Meanwhile, by the time the Cyber Monday deal was being promoted, there was already another Puma promotion circulating on deal-tracking websites announcing that starting on Wednesday, December 4, Puma would be offering all merchandise at 50% off, with no minimum purchase requirement.

Sales forecasts are highly flawed. Barry Ritholz has made an annual tradition out of bashing holiday spending forecasts, including those of the NRF, as well as others from the likes of Forrester Research, which was cited by the New York Times in early November predicting a 13% rise in holiday sales. Ritholz ripped apart such forecasts as “acts of idiocy,” because to be accurate, they must take into account factors such as:

• How much income people will earn between now and the holidays, minus their actual expenses, plus their availability of credit;
• The psychology of how much Americans will actually be spending on gifts;
• The weather;
• And any other random events—ISIS, Ebola, Taylor Swift—that may interfere with holiday cheer.

What’s more, the forecasts are generally based on the input of consumers, who typically don’t have holiday budgets and have no idea how much they spent last year or how much they’ll wind up spending this year. Then add in that the poll data is often shaped and presented to the media by retailer interests—notably, the NRF—and what we have is a system that is so highly unreliable no one should be surprised when the forecasts are way off.

In terms of the overall economy, the good news is that the strength or weakness of Black Friday weekend sales is not necessarily an indicator of how sales will shape up for the holiday season as a whole, nor do slumping Black Friday sales mean that the economy is slumping as well.

What dismal Black Friday sales do mean for the rest of the season is that from now on, retailers are under extra pressure to unload merchandise—typically with increasingly more aggressive price promotions. “Every day is going to be Black Friday, every minute is going to be Cyber Monday. You can’t let up for a minute because of the competitive nature that is out there,” the NRF’s Shay said.

Bear in mind that the above comment, like much of the holiday spending survey data that has been proven questionable at best, comes by way of folks who are actively interested in helping retailers boost sales.

What does any of this mean to shoppers who simply want to know when they’ll find the best prices on holiday gifts? Pinpointing the optimal time to buy every last item in the worldwide marketplace is impossible, and we’re not going to even try. Suffice it to say that there is almost never, ever a reason to pay full price, and that you should use the biggest discounts on Cyber Monday and Black Friday as something of a benchmark. If you know what you want and see prices in the vicinity of what was listed on these big sales days, go ahead and make the purchase without hesitation.

Sure, you could shop relentlessly day after day and perhaps do a bit better, but that’s a formula for one seriously stressful holiday shopping experience. To save yourself both time and anxiety, make use of some of the shopping tricks we recommend, including price-adjusting services—which give you money back if goods wind up being discounted further after you bought them.


MONEY deals

20 Sites Where Everything Is on Sale Today, Often 40% to 50% Off

Laptop with shopping bag on screen
MONEY (photo illustration)—Getty Images

It's Cyber Monday, and while virtually every e-retailer has some of its merchandise on sale, others are holding big, across-the-board markdowns on everything under the sun.

Our roundup of top Cyber Monday deals is focused on retailer websites where absolutely everything is on sale. None of this garbage in which the discounts are “up to” 40% or 50% off—but only on “select” merchandise, with many goods available only at full price.

Nope, the markdowns from the retailers below are sitewide. With a few minimal exceptions, virtually anything and everything sold on the sites below is on sale today, and the discounts amount to at least 25% off.

One thing that’s notable is that the largest across-the-board Cyber Monday discounts tend to come from apparel sellers. Don’t think for a second, however, that retailers like Gap and Abercrombie and Tommy Hilfiger are losing money with their seemingly huge markdowns today. These discounts should serve as reminders that, in general, fashionable clothing is a category with extraordinarily high markups. The original list prices placed on items at these stores are inflated for two reasons: 1) They’ll be highly profitable if some trendy shoppers can be enticed into buying at full freight when the clothes seem freshest; and 2) The high prices serve as benchmarks to make the inevitable discounts seem all the more impressive and tempting.

Unless otherwise stated, the discounts and promotional codes listed here are valid for orders through Monday only.

25% to 35% Off
Crocs: 35% off sitewide with use of the code CYBER35

CVS: 25% off all regularly priced items with use of the code CYBER25

Dicks Sporting Goods: 25% off and free shipping on all orders

H&M: 30% off sitewide with use of the code 2896

Perfumania: 35% off sitewide with use of the code CYBER35, with free shipping on all orders

Sports Authority: 25% off your entire purchase and free shipping on all orders

Walgreens: 25% off sitewide for all regularly priced items, with use of the code GIFT25

40% Off
American Eagle: 40% off everything and free shipping on all orders with use of the code CYBERDAY

Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy: Use promo code CYBER for 40% off your entire purchase at each of these sister sites

Lands’ End: 40% off all regularly priced merchandise, plus free standard shipping on all orders

Rockport: Extra 25% off clearance items and 40% off nearly all other merchandise, with free shipping on all orders (no minimum purchase); use the code YESPLEASE at checkout

Saks Off 5th: 40% to 50% off sitewide with use of the code CLICKTOIT

50% Off
Abercrombie & Fitch: 50% off everything, with free shipping on all orders

Ann Taylor: 50% off sitewide with use of the code CYBER50

The Body Shop: 50% off everything, plus free shipping on all purchases

Lane Bryant: 50% off sitewide and free shipping (no minimum purchase) with use of the code CYBERCHICLB

Silkies: 50% off sitewide with use of the code CYB50

Tommy Hilfiger: 50% off everything with use of the code CM50

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